Mayor Barbara Clark retires after 22 years on City Council

“I am really grateful for having had the opportunity to do this work.”

City leaders listened to an audio recording of Mayor Barbara Clark’s first campaign song during her recognition for 22 years of service on Wednesday night, in celebration of her last City Council meeting as a member of the Council.

“So they raced to their seats and started the meeting, with lots to decide, things could get rather tight, so they didn’t waste time on debate or discussion and five minutes later they were through for the night,” Clark sang.

The song made attendees chuckle and applaud when it called out how fast City Councils were in Walla Walla.

“We now have, I believe, much more discussion of issues than we did. That’s something over 20 years ago. At the time, it appeared to me, as an outsider, that people were kind of coming in with their votes determined in advance … Clearly we are having a lot of discussions now,” Clark said.

She hopes to spend her newfound time making a little more music and having a little bit less busyness in her life, she said.

Clark was presented with a gavel, crystal plaque and certificate for a tree of her choosing to be planted in a city park in honor of her service to the city of Walla Walla.

One of her favorite memories on City Council was when she changed six councilmembers’ minds on the fact that language in city codes matter, she said.

Council was voting on a code revision defining job descriptions of certain administrative positions in the city.

“I said ‘you know, I notice that it says city manager … and he shall’ … and I said ‘wouldn’t it be nice if we had he or she since the position is really open to everybody,” Clark said.

She said she faced a lot of disagreement from the Council at the time, with members saying it would require revisions to everything in the code, that it would be more words, and that “he” implies inclusion of women.

“I said ‘you know what I agree with you guys, you’re right, why should we use two words when we could just use one, let’s use the word she’ … And then all of a sudden everybody said ‘well we could use he or she,’ ” Clark said.

They were getting an “aha moment,” she said.

“At that time I was the only woman on the Council, and they said it doesn’t matter if you say he, we know that he means she but if you said she, suddenly it matters and they realized language does matter,” Clark said.

Now city codes read “he or she.”

Establishing the Aquifer Storage and Recovery project that helped protect and recharge aquifers in Walla Walla was another one of Clark’s proud moments, she said.

Clark was a member of Walla Walla’s Water Advisory Committee who urged the project along for many years.

“The excess winter water of Mill Creek is being put into our deep basalt aquifer, bringing our wells back up to their former levels and giving us water security,” according to a U-B report at the time.

Working on a committee that saved the Jonathan M. Wainwright VA Medical Center from being shut down was another thing she was happy to be a part of, she said.

“It’s no longer a hospital, so that was changed but the clinic, it’s been very much upgraded and then we have the veterans home as well. So to me, that was really important, it would’ve been too bad if that had closed down, not only for the veterans but for the economic impact of a place that pays federal wages,” Clark said.

In matters of her involvement in transportation, she said, the complete streets policy that states when streets are repaired or reconstructed that they will be made safe for automobiles, pedestrians, bicyclists, wheelchairs and people with visual handicaps so that everybody can use those streets was an accomplishment.

Also participating as an individual, she was part of a campaign that increased the sales tax and kept Valley Transit running when the agency was facing deep cuts in service.

She fought to keep walkers and long distance runners allowed on the Veterans Memorial Golf Course as well, noting it had been done for ages.

Clark felt a big accomplishment of the Council was the low income discount that’s available for people whose income is no more than 125% of the federal poverty guidelines. This gives those eligible a 20% discount on their utility bill every month, she said.

Though she felt the Council always voted in good faith, she didn’t always agree with decisions, such as opting for four lanes instead of three lanes and a bike lane for the complete streets look when rebuilding Rose Street, she said.

Her time on Council started as a hesitant decision to fill in for someone who retired in the middle of a term, and turned into a 22-year investment in the city of Walla Walla. She stuck with it for so long because she wanted to see projects she was working on through to the end, Clark said.

Chloe LeValley can be reached at chloelevalley@wwub.com or 509-526-8326.

Chloe LeValley covers civic engagement in the Walla Walla Valley including city governments, county commissioners and other civic groups. She is a recent graduate from San Francisco State University and came to join our team in October 2019.